The abolishing of Sati system is one of the greatest contributions of Christian missionaries in India.
Today Dec. 4 marks that day in 1829 when Sati system - traditional Hindu practice of a widow immolating herself on her husband's funeral pyre - was banned across the country.
While notably Raja Ram Mohan Roy spearheaded the campaign, alongside him were Christian missionaries like William Carey who vociferously questioned the practise and fought for its ban.
It was Carey's relentless battle against Sati for 25 years which finally led to the famous Edict in 1829 banning widow burning.
The cobbler turned Baptist missionary was also the first man who led the campaign for a humane treatment for leprosy and ended the practise of burning them alive.
"Carey was a great social reformer. When he witnessed Sati, the worst evil which prevailed at that time, he was horrified and dismayed," says Dr. Lalchungnunga, the principal of Serampore College, the oldest ecumenical organisation in India, founded by missionaries Joshua Marshman, William Carey and William Ward in 1827.
"The 'Serampore Trio' joined other social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and each on their own capacities vied to abolish this inhuman practice," he told Christian Today.
It was not an easy road. Carey came through a lot of pressure and agitation by traditional Hindus who validated the act by citing ancient Hindu scriptures.
"But, Carey was not to give up. He studied the Vedas and sacred texts for months to be fully conversant to debate the learned pundits," says Lalchungnunga.
"Carey finally with the same Vedas proved that their scriptures never sanctioned it. He persistently battled against it till it was banned in 1829," he added.
During his campaign against Sati, Carey found that nearly 300 widows were burnt alive around Calcutta and 10,000 all over India within a short span of time.
Sadly, the Hindu practise of polygamy compounded the problem even more. On one occasion Carey documented 33 wives of one man burned alive at his funeral. This practise made children orphaned without both father and mother.
Carey fought against all these, publishing articles and books, resolutely opposing this gory practise.
Both Carey and William Wilberforce later persuaded the then governor Lord William Bentinck to carry a regulation on December 4, 1829 declaring Sati as illegal and criminal.
In addition to abolishing Sati system, Carey also protested against other cultural institutions that oppressed women like polygamy, female infanticide, child marriage, euthanasia and forced female illiteracy.
The versatile English minister also built a system of elementary schools with over a hundred such separate schools for girls.
Wiliam Carey played significant role in abolishing Sati system
Published 04 December 2009 | Dibin Samuel